5G is the mother of invention: How an impending wireless upgrade is setting the stage for a new era of American innovation

David Cole knows more about the human eye than most people in the entertainment industry. He needs to in order to keep his business humming. Cole co-founded NextVR nearly a decade ago. Specializing in broadcasting live events in 360-degree virtual reality (VR) environments, the company allows consumers to experience being in the front row of their favorite sporting event or concert by just putting on a headset. The firm has broadcast everything from professional basketball games to stand-up from inside the Gotham Comedy Club. But it’s not easy creating that type of viewing fidelity—largely because technology is still being outdone by basic anatomy. The human eye can detect movement at a rate that can’t normally be replicated by virtual reality footage, notes Cole. The difference makes it much harder to create immersive experiences that are photorealistic. To bridge the gap, innovators like Cole need to be able to share massive amounts of data, continuously and instantaneously, which simply isn’t possible with current wireless infrastructure.

“There are certain conditions that need to be met for VR to be a regular fabric of use,” he said, noting that the challenges extend to VR creators working in other fields, such as medicine, retail and architecture, as well. “We’re not there yet.”

That is about to change, however, with the advent of the next-generation 5G wireless network, one of the most promising new tech advances on the horizon. The first wave of the 5G upgrade, which will be rolled out for smartphones in 2019, is a crucial breakthrough for innovators in a range of emerging technology fields, virtual reality included, says Rasmus Hellberg, senior director for technical marketing at Qualcomm Technologies, Inc., a global company leader in mobile and wireless technology breakthroughs. “The first wave of 5G will bring an enhanced user experience, primarily for smartphone users,” he noted. “But there is a broader 5G opportunity on the horizon, such as delivering photorealistic VR and AR immersion.”

In other words, Cole is just one of many readying for this revolutionary wireless transition. Creators working with a range of technologies—from immersive reality to robotics to the Internet of Things (IoT)—are ready to leverage improved network performance to form the foundation of a new era of invention.

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